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Timing is Everything to British Olympic Contender Cairns
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Cairns at the 2006 Commonwealth Games
Although Imogen Cairns missed the past two world championships because of injuries, she told IG she is hopeful to contend for a spot on the British team for this summer's Olympics in Beijing.

"I'm doing better and getting stronger day by day," said the 19-year-old Cairns, whose most recent injury was a broken ankle last year. "The problem is our Trial dates, which don't leave me much time. My foot is still repairing and we can't work at 100 percent every day at the moment. The question we are asking ourselves is, 'Is there enough time?'"

Cairns, who placed first on vault and fourth all-around at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, was misdiagnosed with several stress fractures in her back just before the 2006 World Championships, held in October in Aarhus, Denmark.

Liz Kincaid, Cairns' coach, said Cairns had back pain four weeks prior to the 2006 Worlds. An MRS scan revealed stress fractures, so Cairns immediately stopped training. Three yeeks later, a CT scan showed that Cairns had only "hot spots," Kincaid said.

"Imogen commenced training," Kincaid said. "Obviously she had to be managed with regards to the hot spots, but her chance of competing was dashed with three weeks of no gymnastics or fitness. Ironically, she had the bittersweet news the day the team flew out to Aarhus. This was the start of a run of bad luck."

Following the 2006 Worlds, Cairns placed fifth on vault at the 2006 Glasgow Grand Prix, and seventh on vault at the World Cup Final in Sao Paulo.

In April 2007 her sore wrist was diagnosed as a broken scaffold. "It's a bad bone to break, and Imogen was in plaster for 12 weeks," Kincaid said.

Following Cairns's recovery from her wrist injury, she injured her ankle. "Imogen was vaulting with a wrist support on, and noticed during her hurdle step that the support had come undone," Kincaid said. "She tried to pull up, and crashed into the vault and broke her ankle."

"I know internationally most people thought I had retired. Sorry, got me for a little while longer! Even in Great Britain people thought I had finished. I find it hilarious."

Cairns subsequently missed the 2007 Worlds in Stuttgart, where the British women's team placed a best-ever seventh. Cairns said she supported her teammates in spite of the fact that she could not participate.

"I got over not competing for a while," she said. "I think you know when you can do it and when you can't — and I couldn't. So I was right behind them and extremely proud and pleased for all of them."

At the World Cup of Maribor, Slovenia, held last month, Cairns placed fifth on vault. Both she and Kincaid said this result was not indicative of Cairns' progress in 2008.

"My coach was disappointed, as I had competed much, much better in England," Cairns said. "However, this is a tricky comp[etition] to do four pieces at, and I felt unwell. I've competed since then and done well."

Kincaid agreed with Cairns on her performance in Maribor. "Maybe the comp was just a fraction too soon, and a difficult one to start with," she said.

Cairns said her return to major competition may come as a surprise to the gymnastics community.

"I know internationally most people thought I had retired," she said. "Sorry, got me for a little while longer! Even in Great Britain people thought I had finished. I find it hilarious."

The British Olympic team will be selected on the basis of three competitions: the British Team Championships on Saturday and Sunday; a Closed Trial at the British national team training center in Lilleshall (June 6); and the British Championships (June 28-29).

With the Olympic Games less than three months away, Cairns and Kincaid are cautiously optimistic about Cairns' chances to make the British team.

"We are working four pieces, and will be out to hit routines in our trials in May and June," Kincaid said. "With regards to Beijing, we will be happy to be there and do whatever is needed. It's still fingers crossed whether the timing aspect after all the injuries works out and we can make the team. Imogen's foot can still flare up and limit her training. I have no strategy — just looking after her body and hope."

Cairns said she will continue competing, whether or not she qualifies for Beijing.

"I don't really have any expectations," she told IG. "I really want to make the team, and we are doing everything possible to make my chances bigger. Then, whether I do or whether I don't [make the Olympic team], I'm looking forward to 2009 and an injury-free year."

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